I have been involved as a TD for the past six years at the North Carolina State Scholastic Championships, working the K-12 and K-8 sections. What has impressed me the most is the soaring quality of the players who come to the tables. Not only is this evident at the state championships, it is apparent at the local levels also.
When I began playing in 2006, tournaments like the Asheboro Open and TACO tournament in Raleigh were primarily populated by adults. It is now common to witness a large contingent of scholastic players who can hold their own against the adults at any level.
I decided to do some research on the topic. The only data available are the crosstables from the State Scholastic Championships back to the year 1992 when the USCF first began keeping online records. If anyone has crosstables for the years 1973 – 1991, I would love to see them. I examined the winners of the K-12 Open and K-8 Open from 1992 through 2012 to see the level of competition that the winners faced. (From 1992 through 2000, the K-8 was held as a K-9 section). There are a number of interesting and notable facts that emerge from the data.
Probably the most important fact that current players should take note of is that it is virtually impossible to be the State Champion at this level if you lose a game. Of all the K-8 and K-12 champions, only Adam Holmes and Tim Chen in the 2003 K-8 section lost a game and still tied for the title. In 2003 the K-8 section played seven rounds which lends a little more leeway in drawing and/or losing, but not much! There was a three-way tie that year between the two aforementioned players and Matt Green, who drew two games. Other than that single instance, no one has ever lost in game in the last 21 years and been champion in K-8/K-9 or K-12. Josh Mu in 2010 is the only player to score 4.5 points and not win, so a draw keeps one in the running, a loss and you are through!
Also notable is that Joshua Mu is the only player to win outright championships in K-3, K-5, K-8, and K-12 (no ties with other players). When Josh was younger, there was no K-1 section for him to win. Dan McCready (1992-2000) won all four sections, but only his K-3 victory was without ties. Frankie Newton (1987-1991) won K-5, K-8, and K-12 (all ties) at a time when there was no K-1 or K-3. The K-1 section began in 2010 and our three champions since then: Michael Ferguson, Ethan Yen, and Peter Crowley have a long road ahead of them to try to top Josh Mu’s feat by winning all five sections outright!
In the 40 years that North Carolina has held a state chess championship, 10 players have won multiple titles in the K-12 section. The all time champion is Mike Klein who won five times (1993-1997) with the final three titles outright. The only other person to win more than two titles is Daniel Tapia (2002-2005) who had one tie and two outright wins. Eight players have won two titles: Nelson Lopez (2005-2006); Justin Daniel (2001-2002), Matt Hoekstra (1998, 2000), Kevin Dupuis (1993-1994), Frankie Newton (1990-1991), David Schmidt (1986, 1988), Mark Sewell (1982-1983), and Allen Cooley (1975-1976). Three players have won multiple titles in the K-8/K-9 section: Samuel Xin (2006-2007), Carter Benge (2005-2006), and Marco Stamatovich (1992-1993). Xin went on to win the 2011 K-12 title also.
The next question I wanted to answer was: how has the quality of the players changed over the 21 years for which there are data? I looked at the ratings of the K-12 winners’ opponents over the years and found startling results. Before 2002 the winners usually had almost slam dunk wins in the first four rounds, playing opponents rated hundreds of points below them, then facing one reasonably worthy opponent in the last round. Starting in 2003 good competition began to creep into round 4, then quickly into round 3 also. Prior to 2006, however, the usual scenario was that one player was so much better than the others that the winner was a foregone conclusion barring upsets. The only real exceptions to this was in the mid-1990s when Mike Klein and Matt Hoekstra were playing at the same time and the early 2000s when Daniel Tapia and Justin Daniel faced each other.
Looking at the average rating of the winners opponents, I found a dramatic jump around 2006. When Ryan Deering (1790) won in 1972, his average opponent was rated 1415. The competition did not average over 1500 until 2002 (with the exception of 1997 when Mike Klein’s opponents were 1532, but Mike was over 2300 then). In 2006 Nelson Lopez (2090) faced an average of 1687 and in 2007 Frank Mu (Josh’s brother) faced a 1681 average. The opponents’ quality then continued to accelerate. In 2008 Jonathon McNeill faced 1802; in 2009 David High faced 1798; in 2010 Will Campbell faced 1733; in 2011 Samuel Xin faced 1803, and this year Josh Mu faced 1782. For 30 years the average opponent was rated in the 1400-1500 range, then in the last decade that has leaped to 1800. Of course we also have 10 times as many players competing now as we did in 1973!
The exact same patterns hold true in the K-8/K-9 section. From 1992 through 2005, the average opponents’ rating fluctuated between 1050 and 1280, rarely exceeding 1200. In 2006 we had a three-way tie for first and the opponents’ rating was in the mid-1300s. In 2007 Samuel Xin faced 1391; in 2008 Eric Noden faced 1467; in 2009 Josh Mu faced 1505; in 2010 Ken Chu faced 1500, in 2011 Kevin Chen faced 1455; and in 2012 Aaron Balleisen faced 1429 and Cameron Chandler faced 1475.
Both the K-12 and K-8/K-9 sections have experienced a 300 point rise over the last seven years in the quality of opposition the winner plays. I believe this quality also has depth, and if I were to examine the ratings of all the players in the sections (no, I do not plan to do that!), there would be found a corresponding rise in ratings at the lower levels also. To what do we owe this jump? I would hazzard a guess that the availability of chess engines for analysis has provided many players with quality information that could only be dug out of books previously, and at the cost of significant amounts of study time. A large number of the better scholastic players seem to be receiving instruction from our Expert and Master level players too.
Chess is on the rise in North Carolina and play is significantly improved at local tournaments. Anyone who wants to claim the title of State Champion is going to have to study very hard. It is not just the scholastic players who are improving, the adults are taking advantage of the chess engine analysis also. We are gaining new players in their 20s who rapidly rise to the Expert level. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the TDs who put on the regular tournaments month after month and give us all a chance to play. The best thanks you can give is to show up as often as possible since a good turnout makes it all worthwhile!
The charts below show each winner and the rating of his/her opponent by round.
See you at the next tournament.